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Unexpected uses of an online dictionary 1

Uses of a traditional dictionary are well known but academic writers may not be familiar with some of the functions of an online dictionary. Using these can improve your academic writing. 

Consistency is very important so it is good to select one as your base dictionary and familiarize yourself with its functions. You can always go to another dictionary if you do not find the answer you seek. Links to three are below. British English is usual in European publications, so two are British. This post will use the Oxford Online Dictionary as an example (now Lexico, a collaboration begun in June 2019 between freely available Oxford Living Dictionaries and The post Unexpected Uses of an online dictionary 2 will look at some uses of a learner’s dictionary.

In this dictionary the drop-down menu is divided into three parts: dictionary, thesaurus and grammar.

Find synonyms using the thesaurus

This is very useful in academic writing as you are likely to be writing about the same topic for many pages.

Distinguish between British and American spelling, usage and pronunciation

Example: Is labour or labor the British spelling?

Example: words used as plural in British English and singular in American English

A group of us is/are going to the theatre this evening.

Example: How is data pronounced in British English?

Find short, clear explanations of grammar points 

It is not always easy to find these online at all or in a concise form so a dictionary can be very helpful. 

Check word usage and see example sentences 

Example: effect versus affect; economic versus economical  

Check word usage and see example sentences 

Example: effect versus affect  

Check whether a particular word exists

Check hyphens and compound nouns . These should be consistent throughout a text. (I actually used this function twice when writing this post.) 

Example: decision maker versus decision-making 

Listen to the pronunciation of a word (click the speaker next to the word)  

This is very useful for presentations, preparing and teaching lessons and learning vocabulary. 

Sources: Oxford Online Dictionary (Lexico); Cambridge Online Dictionary; Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary (an American dictionary, included because it has some very helpful information, for example a section on choosing between synonyms)


Pamela Cotte

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